The arrival of Spring on the Pine Ridge Reservation has the customary trappings of Spring everywhere: trees begin to bud, a few hardy plants begin to push out of the snow and ice, and the warmer weather brings a profound sense of relief.
This is not merely the relief we all feel as the bitter cold, snow, and biting winds begin to subside; on the "Rez," there is a sense of thanks that the harsh cold is going away---at least until next winter. It means another winter season with insufficient heating capability for so many of the Oglala Lakota, with its obvious exacerbation of health issues for weakened immune systems enduring the cold, having to sometimes choose between heat or food, the sheer depression that sees even more suicide thoughts or attempts---it means the most difficult time of year is past, for the time being.
It seems that we of One Spirit are always playing catch-up, particularly in the winter. Not only do food demands increase, we work to support the Oyate as they bravely face another winter without enough food, or even firewood. We do all we can, but it is a difficult struggle to try and meet all the needs that we can to help the Lakota help themselves with basic necessities, to say nothing of encouraging the growth of more cultural awareness.
The Kindness of Strangers
But once in a while, people of good spirit and positive desire to help their fellow citizens appear almost out of nowhere.
When the online newspaper The Huffington Post ran a story about the plight of the Pine Ridge Reservation in winter, one of the people they contacted was our Director, Jeri Baker, who provided information about our wood program and its usefulness, even if it could be so much more if we had the wherewithal to expand it.
Earlier this year, as the frigid winter winds howled relentlessly across the Pine Ridge Reservation, as we of One Spirit were at wit's end trying to provide wholesome food and what wood we could for the Lakota, an amazing thing happened.
Hidden away in the forests of northern Minnesota, Sarah Hamilton saw the Huffington Post article and felt she wanted to do something to help the Pine Ridge residents. Her family has lived on Poplar Lake, along the Gunflint Trail in the Arrowhead Country of northeast Minnesota, operating Trail Center Lodge for decades. The lodge began as a logging camp in 1900, and eventually became an inn, grocery store, restaurant, and lodge that remains an important business to this day. The Hamilton family has also started a top-of-the-line company producing dehydrated camping foods of superior quality (campchow.net).
Already supportive of other good causes, including shipping food to victims of the Puerto Rico hurricane, Sarah stepped up for One Spirit and the Oglala Lakota. She started a fundraiser for the wood program, and used her knowledge of the timber industry to contact Neiman Enterprises to see if they could help.
Neiman Enterprises is a third generation family-owned business, originally started in Hulett, Wyoming in 1958 that specializes in the production of premium forest products with an emphasis on sustainable methods.
Marcus Neiman, of the Spearfish Forest Products Division, kindly agreed to donate scrap lumber from their production facility to the One Spirit Wood Program. As a result, two truck-compatible bins are taken to their yard and, when full of wood, are hauled back to the Pine Ridge Reservation by the Oglala Sioux Tribe Solid Waste Company.
Leslie Mesteth of OST has been kind enough to make the cost of transporting the wood extremely reasonable. Without her spontaneous and enthusiastic support, we would have had no way to transport the wood from Spearfish Forest Products to the Rez. Leslie and the OST are furnishing bins for the wood and truck transportation for a greatly reduced price to help advance the program.
Once the wood gets to the reservation, Bamm Brewer and his crew facilitate distribution of the wood to those most in need. This hard work earns his team a modest amount of monetary compensation, but also the boundless satisfaction of knowing they are helping fellow Lakota keep warmer during the harsh winter months.
As was noted, sometimes fortune smiles on people of good will. In this case, the stability and scale of the One Spirit Wood Program has grown tremendously thanks to the energy and dedication of all of these new friends of One Spirit. We are extremely grateful for their kindness and generosity.
One Good Turn Needs Another
Being able to expand the One Spirit Wood Program thanks to our new friends has also resulted in growing awareness of the need for better means to burn the wood that we are now able to provide. Every winter, there are house fires that result from inadequate means to safely burn wood, which is the sole source of heat for too many Lakota homes.
As you know, many Lakota homes are small and poorly insulated, and depend on wood stoves that may be less than safe under the conditions for heating. Since funds for modern, fuel-efficient stoves are lacking, many recipients of firewood are still forced to burn it in potentially unsafe, low quality wood stoves, which increases the ironic likelihood that house fires might occur.
What so many Oglala Lakota homes need is a professionally installed, modern fuel efficient wood stove with proper ventilation. This type of stove is not inexpensive, and is beyond the budgets of most reservation dwellers, who spend every penny just covering basic necessities as it is.
So it is that one good turn needs another. Since we were so lucky in having Sarah Hamilton, Marcus Neiman, and Leslie Mesteth become vital parts of the One Spirit family, we are now asking our loyal supporters to consider not only a special donation for the newly-minted One Spirit Stove Program, but just to think whether they know someone or organization that might help with the drive to provide safer, more fuel-efficient, professionally installed wood stoves to those most in need.
It could be some of you know of some avenue to achieve this new goal, intended to complement our food, fuel, athletic, cultural, and youth programs to help the Lakota of Pine Ridge labor on to improve their lives within an environment respecting their unique culture.
With completion of the One Spirit Charging Buffalo Facility, ongoing development of the One Spirit Allen Youth Center, the continuing drive to expand our core food aid program, the expansion and enhancement of the One Spirit Wood Program, and now seeking to improve ways to make the best, most environmentally-conscious use of our new wood supplies, One Spirit is making sound progress in achieving our goal of helping the Oglala Lakota help themselves.
We could not do it without all of our supporters.
To you, Wopila Tanka: Many Thanks!